Remember when the Kings of Leon were good? Well, with the help of The Skinny, I got to speak to Caleb just before the U2 years. I'm unsure how I managed to get so much information from him, considering most of the conversation was centered around our mutual love for beards and barbeques. Alas, this comes from The Skinny's November 2007 edition.
The Kings of Leon’s schedule is incessant and gruelling. “It’s the never ending tour,” frontman Caleb Followill tells me. He sounds knackered yet acceptant; even humbled by the opportunity. “This is the greatest life,” he proclaims in his lazy Southern drawl,“ and we are so blessed to be able to do what we love everyday.” It may well be “the greatest life”, but touring seems to be the only life the quartet know, in between their odd pitstops at home in Nashville.
The three siblings in the band spent their early years on the road with their father Leon (hence Kings Of...), a United Pentecostal Church Preacher, a restless and nomadic existence. When asked how he remembers his childhood, Caleb is open and honest. “It was normal to us. We didn’t know anything different. Of course you want certain things, we all wanted to have nice things when we were kids and we didn’t get the opportunity. We couldn’t afford things the other kids had. And you know we wanted to go to school, we wanted to have some friends. We didn’t always wanna be together.”
Their rags to riches story may not yet have reached its fairytale ending, but their experiences to date certainly seem to have given the Followills some measure of control over their future. When speaking of his formative years, Caleb’s voice is loaded with emotion but void of resentment. “Looking back now,” he reflects, “it moulded us for this life. A lot of bands can’t survive cos they can’t take the constant moving around and the instability of this lifestyle. But for us, in a weird way, it was preparing us for what we’ve got now.” The dynamics of a successful band are always intriguing, but the relationships within Kings of Leon make them a particularly fascinating study.
Followill concedes it’s inevitable that they get at each other’s throats but is quick to point out “it’s okay though, we can get in fights and speak our minds but at the end of the day we’re family and that’s what families do.” It is this familiarity that will give the band longevity he feels; the sparks will only serve to bring them closer. But the dynamics weren’t quite so fluid back when their artistic career first came to gain some recognition.
Having announced their arrival on the scene with Youth and Young Manhood at a relatively young age (Jared was only 17), it was perhaps inevitable that they would indulge slightly. Caleb, though, believes they were out of control. “We did so much partying at the beginning and we ended up missing so many opportunities as a band; we were either too wasted or too tired. For a while it looked like it was almost the end of it.”
Video: Kings Of Leon - Four Kicks
Now, he claims, the band has matured and it was a logical choice to make. “You’ve got to choose your battles.” An inquiry into their relationship with current tour partners Black Rebel Motorcycle Club however, results in a mischievous chuckle, suggesting their wild days are not dead and buried just yet. “I thought they’d be wild! But they got their heads screwed on pretty good. We’ve been playing a bunch of casinos and once I start-drinking whiskey I can get ugly and nasty. Especially when someone’s taking my money. Man I gotta watch myself around those boys; I don’t think they appreciate that kind of behaviour much.”
If their proclivity for a dram was a feature of the ‘old days’ they were unwilling to shed completely, other characteristics did not prove so auspicious. The disappearance of Kings of Leon’s trademark flowing beards earlier this year was an arresting development in itself. Was the image change timed to coincide with their considerable progression of sound from their country roots? Well, yes and no, it would seem. “We wanted to see if people would have anything to talk about after they were gone. In the beginning, with all the bands coming out, they wanted to have something to attach them with. Luckily for the press and everyone, not only was our music sounding like we were some scruffy country band, you looked at us and that’s what you got.”
If anything, since the shearing their popularity has soared. Followill coyly concurs. A gamble paid off then, and evidently in more ways than one. “I got laid more after losing the beard,” he laughs. Surely, The Skinny put it to him, being the lead singer of the Kings of Leon is enough by itself?
“It’s just everyone thought I was a lot older. A lot of older women were going for my little brother and I was like “Hey, don’t forget about me. I’m still young!” His long laugh betrays any perceived modesty, “Beard’s back now though, getting cold. Guess it’s a lonely Winter for me!”
Video: Kings of Leon - Milk (Live at Lollapalooza)